Looking back on The End of History

Back in the nineties, Francis Fukuyama made a big stir with The End of History and the Last Man.  Fukuyama’s big claim, which was nothing more than the Whig view of history, is that if we view history, not as a meaningless sequence of events, but as the story of man struggling to find the best way to order his society, then history is over.  Liberalism is the definitive answer to this question.  All prior times were leading up to this discovery; all future times will be living with it.  By liberalism, Fukuyama basically means the Anglo-American way:  democracy, rule of law, individualism, and sensibly regulated capitalism.  Communism was supposedly liberalism’s one big rival, but with the fall of the Soviet Union, liberalism now held the ideological field to itself.  Not, of course, that every nation had adopted liberalism, but every nation will soon enough, because no other system has any legitimacy, even for its own subjects.  One recession or one lost war and any dictator will find himself booted out, while democracy has a reserve of legitimacy that can carry it through any amount of bungling.

All of this was pretty much conventional wisdom in the nineties, so it’s surprising that the reaction to Fukuyama’s thesis has been so hostile.  Pretty much everyone accepted the Whig view (including myself at the time), but nobody was supposed to actually state it.  By laying it out explicitly, Fukuyama made people realize what a radical view it is.  That history has a telos, and that we are it really are remarkable, and remarkably arrogant, claims.  They’re far easier to hold as prejudices than as beliefs.  The End of History made an ideology of common wisdom, which meant reasons now needed to be supplied.  Fukuyama’s argument went like this:  Men are motivated by material needs and by a desire for recognition from their fellows.  Capitalism satisfies the first set of desires and democracy the second, while no other system does either.  QED.  Having raised popular prejudice to an explicit ideology, many people found that they didn’t like it very much.  Fukuyama himself was worried that capitalism’s easy comfort and democracy’s easy recognition would yield a race of contemptible “last men”.

Since the book was published, essayists have enjoyed making themselves feel smart by ridiculing the claim that history has ended.  Events like 9/11 supposedly prove that fortune’s wheel is still turning for nations and ideologies alike.  Anyone who’s actually read the book would know how easy it would be for Fukuyama to brush aside these attempted disproofs.  I myself maintain a soft spot for this particular piece of Whig triumphalism.  It was one of the first serious non-science books I’d read, certainly the first to make me think about the meaning of history and the effect of government forms on men’s character.  Its very simplified versions of Plato, Hegel, and Nietzsche were just what I needed at the time.

And actually, twenty years on, The End of History is still looking pretty good.  Liberalism is still carrying all before it.  The great commie empire of China has continued to go capitalist.  In Europe and America, liberalism has imposed itself as official dogma–while Christianity, patriarchism, and particularism have been marginalized–to a greater extent that even conservative pessimists would have thought possible, most recently by the imposed normalization of sodomy throughout the Western world.  Even Islam seems to be in the process of capitulating to the Enlightenment.  Betting on the advance of liberalism always ends up being a safe bet.  There have been times before when liberalism had seemed to hit serious crises.  Before the over-hyped Muslim menace, there was the thirties and the Great Depression, when liberalism was being seriously challenged by communism, nationalism, and Catholic corporatism.  Reading some of Chesterton’s essays from this time, where he gloats that liberalism is a spent force while the Catholic Church has all the vigor of youth, is today a painful experience for Catholics.  Today, liberalism has completely overrun Chesterton’s beloved Church, and the modernism he despised is heard from our pulpits every Sunday.  No matter how much you despise liberalism, don’t fool yourself that it, or its followers, are weak.  Before you tell yourself that liberalism is on the verge of collapse, remember that conservatives and communists have been saying this for a long time, right before liberalism’s next spectacular advance.

Today, it still seems a live possibility that history has “ended”.  To me, this is a disturbing possibility, because I don’t like the endpoint.  There are still some loose ends, no doubt.  Islam is still liberalism’s main ideological challenger.  Its population is compromised, but its will to fight is still very real.  The exhaustion of the world’s fossil fuels will represent a serious challenge to the liberal economic system, and we have yet to see if the necessary adjustments will compromise the ideology itself.  The deleterious social effects of libertinism long predicted by conservatives–broken families, crime, ethnic tension, welfare dependency–have all come to pass, but Europeans and Americans have learned that we can live with them, and many presumably find the trade worthwhile.  Liberals don’t replace themselves naturally, but this can give conservatives little comfort, because the liberals have proven themselves very good and converting our own children.

Continued liberal advance well past the end of my own life seems like a good bet to me.

21 Responses

  1. How depressing, Bonald. Depressing but most likely true.

  2. How can we even begin to fight when most Western “conservatives” are pushing the liberalism of 200 years ago? Though I think there is some progress here. Reactionaries are finally beginning to push back against the Austrians and Constitution worshipers who dominate everything. Sites like FPR form a good basis for a future movement.

  3. I am sure members of the Roman Empire said the same thing. The thing people forget is that history works slowly. The Roman Empire took centuries to collapse. I expect liberalism will collapse much faster than Rome did.

    Society is hardly static. Illegitimacy rates are growing incredibly fast. This will result in a fundamental change in society. I would say that liberalism peaked around 1970. It hasn’t been so long since then, but even in this short time we can see changes. Income inequality has increased. In the 1970s we sent men to the moon, a program that has been completely forgotten. In median income has recently begun to decline. So not only am I sure that liberalism will collapse, but I am sure that it will collapse faster than most other cultures have in history.

  4. I believe that liberalism will slowly devour itself but it won’t be finished I agree since societies typically go in cycles of growth, stability and decay. Liberalism is like a paratise upon a host. When the host is dead or has separated itself from the parasite then the parasite will not be able to survive and will wither away.

    This will result in a fundamental change in society.

    I think the biggest fundamental change in society has been the Enlightment and the French Revolution followed perhaps by the 60’s Sexual Revolution if we are speaking of modernity.

  5. Liberalism, I’ve argued before, is an essentially Satanic movement. It’s no wonder that modern liberal idealogues sound startlingly like Milton’s Lucifer.

    So the Devil is winning (or has won) the world. That’s a cause for mourning, to be sure, but also cause to sharpen our hope — these times have been prophesied, after all, and the REAL end of history has yet to appear.

  6. Good post Bonald. The point about “triumphalism” is very well-taken. In fact, this is one of the things that really bothers me about liberalism. It seems that it acquires victory after victory. Things are not getting better; they are getting worse. This almost seems to be empirical verification of a sort of liberal pseudo-eschatology.

    And yet this just *can’t* be correct. How can a godless doctrine have an eschatology? How can an ideology which denies any natural ends or meaning in nature state that we are converging upon it as an inevitable telos? The attempt to say that the universe is ultimately in accord with liberalism and will ultimately prove it true is simply inconsistent with liberalism’s own dogmas. Such triumphalism only makes sense in light of some underlying Logos. And only a Christian picture of reality can give us this. But then, from whence come these liberal victories? I think the best explanation is Proph’s proposal: It’s a satanic movement.

    It’s difficult for me to express exactly what I mean, so hopefully someone will understand what I’m saying.

  7. The contradiction at the heart of liberalism lies in its simultaneous assertion of popular sovereignty and universal human rights. In the brief interlude between the absolutist state of the Ancien Régime and modern mass parties, this was achieved by the separation of the public sphere of state activity and the private sphere of civil society. The state provided a legally codified order within which social customs, economic competition, religious beliefs, and so on, could be pursued without interference.

    But, when the social consensus on which the distinction rested breaks down, liberalism has no way of defining or defending the boundaries of this sphere; everything becomes potentially political.

    Rousseau saw this very well. “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is important,” for “ if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.”

    Here is a very revealing anecdote: under the Fourth Republic, Michel Debré at first supported the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance, but defected to the Radical-Socialist Party on the advice of General Charles de Gaulle, who reportedly told him and several other politicians, including Jacques Chaban-Delmas, “Allez au parti radical. C’est là que vous trouverez les derniers vestiges du sens de l’Etat” – “Go to the radical party. It is there that you will find the last vestiges of the meaning of the state.”

  8. History ends when God executes his final judgment on his enemies, not when a bunch of Christ-haters say so.

  9. This is an awesome post. Great fun to read and so true. The comments are also really good. Liberalism is so strong that it can only die by eating itself, so that’s where one has to look if one is optimistic.

  10. The liberal order will die in time just like all social orders. Legitimacy to rule is a slippery thing, and it is always gone for a long while before the general populous realizes it is gone. It is nothing more than a government with a monopoly on violence. Someday, that monopoly will be challenged, and it will fail.

  11. Excellent post.

    “Before you tell yourself that liberalism is on the verge of collapse, remember that conservatives and communists have been saying this for a long time, right before liberalism’s next spectacular advance.”

    It is well to keep this in mind. Thank you.

    “Liberals don’t replace themselves naturally, but this can give conservatives little comfort, because the liberals have proven themselves very good and converting our own children.”

    This often gets ignored! I often hear conservatives crow about how they have many children whereas liberals tend to have one or none, with the implication that long-term demographics are “on our side.”

    But from the liberal point of view, all those little (Mormon, Catholic, etc) children are just more grist for the careerist, PC mill. No one says it out loud or thinks it explicitly, but the basic way it works is this: among whites, the conservatives crank out the children and then the liberals (via mass media, via universities and via seduction through hedonism) convert them into little non-breeding leftists. Some families manage to keep traditional values continual from one generation to the next, but most do so only partially.

  12. Some families manage to keep traditional values continual from one generation to the next, but most do so only partially.

    I think that as a whole we should try our best to reject liberalism in our private and public lives. Sending one’s child to a school where liberalism is taught is not the right path. While it’s true that we are in the world we are not of the world. Perhaps Proph is correct.

  13. All the more reason to homeschool, not have TV ect ect. I think Catholic reactionaries should implement Brent Bozell’s notion of a “Catholic Tribe”. .Form Catholic enclaves, grow your own food, be as self-sufficient as possible and most importantly have a strong focus on the parish. There are such enclaves in America where people do just this.

  14. On a slightly unrelated note, I’d like to recommend this documentary to you:

    The Four Horsemen: Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens

    (You can watch the whole thing on Youtube. Since it’s nothing more than them chatting at a table, you might as well watch it on Youtube.)

    I know you might balk at first, but trust me, you will be VERY surprised by some of the things they say throughout. Maybe the alcohol threw them off their guard, but is NOT the incessant sneering at religion and the religious you might expect. If it were, I wouldn’t bother recommending it. It’s worth the two hours. You might look at them very differently afterward (well, except for Dawkins, as he seemed to be the most unyielding).

  15. Relating to your post: I think the time has come for those on the genuine Right to withdraw support for the status quo as much as humanly possible. I say “as much as humanly possible” because I don’t expect anyone to ensconce himself in a cave somewhere. The Right has erred in the past by attempting to salvage the liberal order or at least make it work more in their favor. Don’t! Let it collapse! Do as much as possible to hasten its collapse! Pay no lip service to it whatsoever! This is the only way political ideas get discredited. Rational argument alone never works, no matter how ironclad. Leftism and liberalism must be made so insufferable so that they are someday scorned as much as Nazism is.

  16. I watched the first segment. I can’t take more. What a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites. Atheism is the world’s most intolerant religion, and the religion that receives the most government subsidy. And I say this as someone who doesn’t believe in a supernatural God.

  17. Curiously enough, there’s still plenty of nationalism and religio-ethnic particularism extant in the American Empire’s favorite country of Israel.
    All you have to do is look at the composition of the current Israeli government to see that. Of course Tel Aviv is famously secular and liberal-but Wikipedia says that Tel Aviv is only 3% Muslim.

  18. Hello Mr. Watkins,

    That is a good point. It’s odd that the people who reject teleology in the natural order have a view of history that is relentlessly teleological. I’m not sure myself how meaningful it is to speak of an end of history, history not being an actual substance, after all.

  19. Thanks for the encouragement, outofsleep, Bill, and Alfredo.

  20. It gets better. Watch the rest. I hate whiney posts that only tell you that the poster didn’t bother reading/watching the whole thing.

  21. I’m sorry, but these guys are abject imbeciles. Their thoughts on religion are absolutely worthless.

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